DUNEDIN – It was mixed news at the June 19 Dunedin City Commission meeting for the pilots of light amphibious aircraft.
The commission unanimously voted to reaffirm the county’s prohibition for seaplanes, ultralights and light sport aircraft instructional businesses on the Dunedin Causeway, but it acknowledged that private recreational flights are allowed under specific conditions.
At the April 3 commission meeting, Dave Myers, owner of Amphibian Air, asked the city to consider allowing him to conduct a light sport aircraft instructional business on Dunedin Causeway, according to a memo to the commission from City Manager Rob DiSpirito. After investigation by city staff, they discovered that the county governs such activities on the causeway and prohibits a private enterprise on a public right of way, the memo said.
“The county also has a concern with regarding mixing pilot training in the same area where there is a significant amount of recreational activity,” the report said.
Additionally, a county ordinance prohibits any airplane or other flying apparatus from taking off or landing on any county-owned or managed land or waterway, the report said. However, staff also discovered that as long as these amphibious aircraft were launched from a trailer into the water like a boat would and didn’t take any paying customers, then the operators are allowed to launch and fly their planes.
“Recreationally, the city does not have an ordinance that would prohibit recreational seaplane activity,” said Vince Gizzi, parks and recreation director. “Seaplanes have the same right as boats do, as long as they are being launched from the appropriate areas on the causeway in the motorized areas, not from the swimming area, as well as the north side of the causeway. And as long as they are following all of the Florida Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Coast Guard regulations. As long as those are adhered to, seaplanes could take off from the water and land in the water.”
Commission members supported the county ordinance and in addition, even if they had the power to allow for the activity, they didn’t feel comfortable doing so on the causeway where there are so many people concentrated in a single area.
“It may be appropriate for us to endorse the fact that we support the county in their decision to not allow this,” said Commissioner Ron Barnette. “I think there have been concerns expressed from the groups and different safety organizations and I don’t want us to just take a back seat on this.”
Myers of Palm Harbor approached the commission and was upset that he wasn’t given an opportunity to more thoroughly address his side to the commission and that he felt his request was misunderstood.
“We have tried to have council members come and look into us, see how safe we are, see how we are good for your city,” Myers said. “The only thing they’ve done is watch video from the April 3 meeting and to see if we can conduct business from the Dunedin Causeway, and we never asked to conduct business on the causeway. We asked for beach access.”
Myers said when he first came to the area in December, he approached Greg Rice, planning and development director, Gizzi and also the county to find out more information about a particular property on the causeway. No one could find the answers, he said.
“We are by-the-book, law-abiding citizens,” Myers said. “We have been removed from the causeway from the (Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office) on several locations. Memorial Day would be the last one. We were setting up our aircraft and the police pulled us off of the causeway. … On the record, we have never broken the city or county ordinance, nor will we ever willfully lie to anyone about what we do.”
The commission and Gizzi reiterated to Myers that as long as they follow the guidelines outlined earlier in the meeting, then they have every right to launch their planes and should not be removed by the Sheriff’s Office. Mayor Dave Eggers also added that they will let the Sheriff’s Office know about these specific rules so that this should not happen to them again.
Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski said that she agrees that the causeway is a crowded location that would not be good for a lot of this activity even if it was allowed to take customers, but after hearing from the pilots, she wondered if there was somewhere else they could do that.
“I just think it would be interesting to see if there is another location where they can operate from,” Ward Bujalski said. “No matter who owns the causeway, there’s a lot of traffic of many, many different kinds out there. … There’s a lot of types of vehicular stuff going on out there that I think is probably unregulated and can be very dangerous and I can understand why we wouldn’t want this mixed in. I get that. But the idea of the business I think is kind of cool and it would be kind of cool if we could work with them to find a safe place. Not necessarily public land. I don’t want to give the impression that we’re not open to this kind of business in Dunedin.”
Ward Bujalski said she liked that this could be something unique to Dunedin if they could find an appropriate place to do it. Mayor Eggers agreed that it would be something to look into.